Defying Taboo:

Saprea tackles the unspoken trauma of childhood sexual abuse

Saprea gives women the tools to heal from childhood sexual abuse on their own terms

Group of six women posing joyfully in front of a green wall, some wearing shirts with positive messages.

The sexual abuse that Fyre suffered happened during childhood, but even decades later, it still controlled nearly every aspect of her life.

As an adult, the fallout from abuse was a burden that she carried alone. Feeling that no one else could understand what had happened to her or how it continued to creep into her daily life, she shouldered the weight of her trauma in isolation, until it became too much for one person to bear.

After coming out of an unsuccessful relationship, she began to spiral. She left her faith community, which had previously been a central aspect of her life. She dropped out of school. Intense anxiety and depression overwhelmed her. 

“She said, ‘My life was hell,’” says Chris Yadon, managing director of Saprea. “Those were her words. She turned to us for help.”

When Fyre discovered Saprea, she didn’t just join a support group or therapy service. She found a community. For the first time, she no longer carried her trauma alone.   

Saprea is an organization that works to free women — and by extension, society — from the damage of child sexual abuse. Through retreats, support groups, and online education, survivors are empowered and supported along their healing journeys. Additionally, parents and caregivers are educated to recognize and protect children and adolescents from sexual abuse as well. 

After working with Saprea, Fyre experienced tremendous growth. But crucially, her progress wasn’t the work of Saprea staff: it was her own. 

“Fyre became a steward of her own healing,” Yadon says. “We became that support system around her, but let her drive her healing journey.”

Healing from childhood sexual abuse requires open conversations 

Openness is at the heart of what makes Saprea work. The organization opens up important communication channels about one of the most difficult topics to discuss.

Childhood sexual abuse itself is a complicated and multi-layered concept. No one definition encompasses it. It can mean anything from digital exploitation to molestation to trafficking, and much more.

Because it is not often openly talked about, it is often misunderstood or surrounded in myth. For instance, childhood sexual abuse is far more widespread than commonly assumed: One in four girls is sexually abused before the age of 18. Children are far less likely to be abused by strangers than by friends or other close figures, even in technology-facilitated cases. And over half of survivors were abused by other children, though juvenile-to-juvenile sexual abuse is not commonly recognized.

These topics are taboo. 

“A lot of people say, ‘Really, it’s that big of a problem? I don’t hear about it that much,’ and it’s largely because of the stigma around the issue,” Yadon says. “Survivors of child sexual abuse do not disclose broadly that they are survivors. That’s changing a lot right now.”

Saprea’s new Sextortion initiative tackles a pressing issue adolescents currently face: sexual extortion between teenagers who have sent nude photos or videos. “It’s a really tough one, because in order to reduce the risk of it, you have to walk a really tough victim-shaming line,” Yadon says. 

Saprea is currently developing educational materials that will help parents both learn about sexual extortion risks, and also help them talk to their children.

The materials are also designed to help families who have already been victims “minimize shaming [and learn] to navigate the dialogue with their children,” Yadon says. 

The effects of childhood sexual abuse last far into adulthood

At Saprea, survivors are empowered to become the directors of their own healing.

“It starts with who we serve and this goes quite a bit to that bottom-up approach,” Yadon says. 

Saprea’s retreats take place over four days in person followed by nine weeks online. Yadon describes that many survivors feel it’s too late and they are “just broken or crazy.” Saprea helps them repair and recognize their own strength.

Survivors at Saprea choose which healing works best for them. This could be trauma-sensitive yoga, sexual health classes, martial art classes, or a variety of other options. Recovery looks different for everyone.

The other key piece of sexual abuse Saprea addresses is longevity. The effects of childhood sexual abuse are far-reaching into adulthood, often much more than society recognizes. Among incarcerated women, 72% reported having been sexually abused as a child, and one in three women who are sexually abused as children will attempt suicide by age 30. 

“We largely occupy long-term healing,” Yadon says. “For the individual that was abused as a child, (if) it didn’t get dealt with and now they’re an adult dealing with the post-traumatic stress, they’ve learned to live through their day-to-day life. But they haven’t healed.”

Establishing a long-lasting community is part of that healing. Women are grouped into cohorts of eight at retreats, and these cohorts, along with their therapists, provide support systems that stand beside them.

“To be in a room with seven other women that get them is very liberating and empowering,” Yadon says.

Through Saprea, childhood sexual abuse no longer defines survivors’ lives 

On average, by 12 months post-program, a woman who participates in Saprea’s retreat and online psychoeducation experiences a 37% reduction in post-traumatic stress symptoms, a 45% increase in life satisfaction, and a 19% higher efficacy in being able to cope with their trauma. 

“This is saying she’s getting triggered 37% less,” Yadon says. “That alone is very life-altering, but the well-being indicators are her ability to manage through the triggers when they come. So when you combine those two and you see a 37% reduction in symptoms and a 45% increase in the ability to manage them when they do occur, it fundamentally changes their day-to-day experience.”

Moving forward, Saprea plans to expand. Women are far from the only demographic to experience childhood sexual abuse, and Saprea hopes to encompass male, transgender, and non-binary survivors as well. To do that, Yadon acknowledges, the organization will have to research and address the specific experiences of each group, which each carry their own nuances and commonalities.

As for Fyre, four years after her program at Saprea, life is back on her terms: not controlled by her trauma. She has since finished school, become a practicing hospice nurse, gotten married, and become a mother.

Crucially, “She owns all that growth that post-traumatic growth,” Yadon says. “It’s hers, it’s not ours, it’s not Saprea’s. Our job was to set her on the right path and give her the right tools. That’s really what the power of our programming is. It truly gives the survivor the opportunity to be a steward of their own healing. And to take back their power that was taken from them when they were abused as a child.”

Saprea is supported by Stand Together Foundation, which partners with more than 300 of the most transformative nonprofits in communities across the country.

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